Imperialist oppression is rocking the Middle East

In the last few days the masses in many parts of the Middle East have been pouring out onto the streets in protest against the murder of civilians in Iraq and Gaza. They have been coming out emboldened by the feeling that the killing machine of the occupying armies in Iraq and Gaza can be defeated. Yossi Schwartz, just returned from one of these protests in Rafah (Gaza) looks at the effects throughout the Middle East and in particular in Israel. 

In the last few days the masses in many parts of the Middle East have been pouring out onto the streets in protest against the ongoing murder of civilians in Iraq and Gaza. The masses have been coming out emboldened by the feeling that the killing machine of the occupying armies in Iraq and Gaza can be defeated.

The fact that the armies of occupation in Iraq cannot defeat the armed resistance in Najaf and Karbala is well understood by the masses. Similarly the Israeli army’s claim that the troops are withdrawing from Gaza after its mission was successfully completed does not fool many. The Israeli army entered Gaza with the purpose of terrorising the people of Gaza into accepting Sharon’s plan, but it failed.

The reports about the Israeli army in Gaza have been reports of soldiers fearful for their lives who do not dare to show their heads outside their armoured vehicles or the houses they had occupied and were hiding in. Only two years ago the Israeli army used to patrol Gaza on foot!

Of course the Israeli army, like the imperialist armies in Iraq, is strong in terms of numbers and weaponry, but in the face of mounting mass opposition they are facing political defeat and this is the most important aspect of the whole situation. In Algeria the French army was stronger than the FLN but when the masses of workers and peasants came out, both in Algeria and in France, against the imperialist war, France had to leave Algeria. The same happened in Vietnam. The US army was stronger than the Vietcong, but when the working class in the US came out against the war the rulers of the US had to leave Vietnam. And now the masses are coming out in the Arab states and in Israel.

Last Friday at least 200,000 people demonstrated in Beirut against the United States. Smaller groups also rallied in other Middle Eastern countries, with protesters in Bahrain clashing with the police. Wearing white shrouds symbolizing their readiness to die in defence of the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in Iraq, more than 200,000 protesters marched through Beirut's suburbs. Many chanted “death to America, death to Israel.”

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah accused the US forces of desecrating holy shrines in Iraq, and called on Muslims to fight to the death for the two Iraqi cities. Nasrallah said, “Let the Americans understand that those who wore shrouds today, including clerics, men, women, children and adults, did not come to show off. We will not abandon our religious duty. Today's march is a step on the road to defending the holy sites.”

Shiite Muslim communities in Lebanon, Iran and Bahrain have been outraged by continued fighting in Karbala and Najaf, which are home to shrines that are among the most sacred in Shia Islam. The US military has said it is doing its best to avoid damage to the shrines in Iraq, however in the fighting last week, the Imam Ali mosque received four holes in its golden dome. The mosque is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law, who is revered by Shiites.

In Manama, Bahrain, a nearly two-mile march had been approved by security authorities, but the police tried to stop the demonstrators halfway along the route. In spite of this, the protesters kept on moving and turned over an empty police car and set it on fire. The police fired tear gas to disperse the demonstrators, but the angry crowd broke through the police blockade and continued its march to protest against the fighting in Karbala and Najaf, shouting, “Death to America!”

In Tehran, Iran, the police pushed back an advancing crowd, beating them with sticks, as about 200 protesters outside the British Embassy threw stones and firecrackers, demanding the embassy be closed and the ambassador expelled. “Down with Israel, UK, USA,” read a banner.

In Amman, Jordan, around 1,000 worshippers held a one-hour sit-in in front of the al-Husseini Mosque to protest at Arab silence on Israel's recent incursion into the Gaza Strip that has left many Palestinians dead.

In Israel, following the mass demonstration in Tel-Aviv, smaller demonstrations continued during the week. Last Friday 1000 people marched on the Kissufim crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel to protest against the Israeli army operation in Rafah, in which, according even to Israeli news, 40 Palestinians have been killed, many of them school children.

The demonstration was supposed to take place at the Sufa crossing, which is closer to Rafah, but the protesters decided on Kissufim instead after being blocked by the police at the Sufa crossing. The demonstration was organized by left leaning liberals, like Tayush, and the Peace Bloc that issued a statement on Friday saying, "None of us can sit at home at a time like this. None of us can say, 'We didn't know'!"

On Thursday, about 500 people demonstrated for the second consecutive day in front of the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv. The demonstration was organized by Peace Now and attended by members of refusenik organizations, the Yahad Knesset faction, the Yahad youth movement, and leftist student groups.

The capitalists are trying to placate the masses

This mass movement in the Middle East is causing the imperialists and their local servants some real fear. In reaction to this, they moved immediately to make some empty statements and fire some hated politicians in a desperate attempt to placate the masses.

In Tunis, Arab foreign ministers worked Friday on building consensus among the Arab rulers for resolutions on Iraq and Gaza. Arab officials scared by the growing anger of the masses were begging the US to save them by taking a harder line on Israel. They declared that they were encouraged by a US decision to allow passage of a UN resolution this week criticizing Israel, and that they hope this signalled a tougher line by Israel's closest ally against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

“This is a summit that is very well prepared,” said Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher of Egypt, the most populous Arab country. He told AP that the foreign ministers have finalized all the documents, which will be submitted to the leaders for approval. Not by chance Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, facing at the moment the stronger opposition to the imperialist war in Iraq, was the first Arab leader to arrive in Tunis on Friday. He said the summit offers the Arabs an opportunity to act together and any failure to come up with a united stand would hand a "free service" to the Arabs' enemies”. By this of course he meant the masses.

As the bourgeois politicians flew into the Tunisian capital for their annual gathering, scuttled two months ago over sharp differences, it was clear that this meeting of the collaborators with the US imperialists will not fare any better. Already Sudan's president has become the eighth Arab leader to stay away, apparently in protest at a report critical of his government’s human rights abuses in Darfur. Four leaders have excused themselves because of their health conditions and three others, including the de facto leader of heavyweight Saudi Arabia, apparently for political reasons.

The US rulers know full well what is the real value of this summit. Therefore they are seeking now to placate the masses by throwing some bones to them, in the form of the removal of some hated local corrupt politicians.

In Iraq, the Iraqi police, backed by US forces, raided the home and office of Governing Council member Ahmad Chalabi ‑ the same man who had promised the US and Britain that the invasion would have been welcome by the majority of the Iraqis who were fed up with Saddam’s bloody regime. Instead the oppression of the Iraqis following the war has united the Iraqis against the imperialists. In spite of this little game, this trick, Chalabi is not improving his standing among the Iraqi masses.

As Aljazeera reported (Saturday, 22 May, 2004):A day after an enraged Chalabi decried the raid and renounced his relations with the US-led occupying authority, Sunni and Shia Iraqis were indifferent and scornful towards Washington's former political 'darling'.

"Chalabi represents nothing for Iraqis. He only thinks of himself and seeks to secure himself a good political position. Everything that happens to him serves him right," said driver Mahmud Ali. "It is the same for other members of the Governing Council. They only work for the interests of the USA and foreigners," he said.

"Ahmed Chalabi is only one among others," said Ali al-Mayahi, a 35-year-old worker who considers the whole of the Iraqi executive "completely cut off from the Iraqi population."

The chequered past of the Iraqi National Congress president ‑ he was sentenced in 1992 by a Jordanian military tribunal to 22 years in prison for fraud ‑ does not speak in his favour. "This guy deserves what is happening to him, he is a thief," said Qussai al-Obaidi. Another resident, Riad Jamil, wondered why Chalabi was outraged over the raid and pointed out that "this is the Iraqis' daily life."

In Bahrain king Sheik Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa fired his interior minister, saying the march should have been allowed to go on. A royal decree replaced Interior Minister Sheik Mohammed bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa with General Rashed bin Abdallah bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa.

“What happened between the police and the protesters didn't please us,'' the royal statement said. It said citizens had the right to protest against “the violation of the holy cities and what happened in Iraqi prisons'' - a reference to the physical and sexual abuse of Iraqi detainees.

And in Israel a split is opening up inside the ruling class and a large section is beginning to have a second thoughts about Sharon’s government. The “Haaretz”, the mouthpiece of Israeli industrial and finance capital wrote a very interesting piece last Friday under the title: “We're in bad hands.” It gives a very good idea of the misgivings of an important section of the Israeli ruling class and it is worth quoting from at length:

“Many humble non-combatants have discreetly asked themselves this week what the point is of the operation in Rafah. How could it possibly succeed? How could something not go wrong?

“The defence minister and the chief of staff added to these misgivings with their insipid, worried remarks. Dangerous tunnels, terrorist infrastructure, wanted men, plans to advance slowly this time ‑ and raze hundreds of buildings. And just as they said these things, Operation Rainbow turned into one of the Israel Defence Forces' most embarrassing campaigns yet. The troops may have moved slowly, but failure came fast. And over it fluttered a black flag of violating international law.

“We are looking at the classic case of an army with unreasonable objectives marching into a predictable ambush. The IDF was sent in to restore the momentum and reputation which had been damaged so badly last week. It will be returning from Rafah very soon with these two components of military might sadly diminished. Shaul Mofaz and Moshe Ya'alon have shown such poor judgment that if they were running a corporation, they'd be out on the doorstep: The stocks have hit rock bottom; the goals are unachievable and the world market has responded with a thumbs down. The board of directors would send them packing with a golden parachute. The trouble is that the army's board of directors is the government, which is guilty of strange behavior itself and headed by a leader who is losing altitude.

“This combination of a government that has no path and an army that has lost its way because of it, has been harming national interests for years…

“So we are in bad hands no matter where you look. These hands have pushed Israel into the abyss of misguided thinking. What happened in Rafah this week is the same kind of sudden dramatic reversal that caused France to pull out of Algeria. After their defeat in the casbahs and the tunnels, the Algerians began to march en masse toward the gun barrels pointed at them. Here, too, Palestinian despair confronted Israeli military resolve. A crowd of 1,500 demonstrators, including women and children, armed themselves this week with a secret weapon that has no match: the knowledge that they have nothing to lose.

“Just as the army has lost its bearings, so Israeli politics is no longer worthy of the name. It has become a bastion of partisan gangs operating in total chaos, blackmailing Sharon and one another…

“Even the recovery of Labor and Yahad is the result of being shoved forward by what is going on rather than leading it. Shimon Peres thinks that life begins at 80, as Churchill ironically put it, and is still crawling toward the government. If Shinui represents anything today, it is the public's bewilderment…

“We're in bad hands. Sometimes they're not clean. Even when they're holding the gun, they have started shaking. But it's a poor man's comfort when the hands of your government tremble in times of crisis, rocking the boat even harder.” (Haaretz, May 21, 2004) []

Leadership and Programme

The masses who want to put an end to the nightmare, find no working class revolutionary leadership able and willing to unite all the workers and peasants throughout the region with the perspective of workers’ and peasants’ governments. The green flags of Islam do not mean a perspective of a new progressive society. They stands for an idea of a glorified past of the Islamic empires of the middle ages. In reality, as Iran shows, they mean an oppressive regime based on capitalism and the same imperialist world order.

The left Zionists stand for the same. The more radical protest is lead by the left liberals of the Peace Bloc of Uri Aveneri and by Tayush. Neither of them have any programme for social change. While the Peace Bloc openly declare its support for two capitalist states and against the right of return of the refugees, Tayush is a coalition basically of left liberals with very confused ideas, reflecting their social composition as a layer of the lower middle class.

As long as the working class does come forward and push the more left radicals to join the struggle of the working class, the activists of the left liberals - who support capitalism but want to remove some of its very ugly features - will continue to dominate this movement. However, lacking a programme and a revolutionary perspective and tactics, the leadership of Tayush in spite of its pacifist phraseology, tends to act as adventurers without taking into account the relationship of forces on the ground, not even in a given tactical situation.

We can give a concrete example of this. Yesterday (May 21) in the Kissufim protest, the army and the police were under orders not to clash with the demonstrators, in spite of the fact that the leadership of the protest was seeking consciously to clash with the Army and the police. This happens almost in every demonstration led by Tayush.

Yesterday they created a potentially very dangerous situation where the protesters were encircled by the army and the police at the front and on the left, and by right wing settlers on the right. Because of their tactics, six people were held for questioning during the march, after some scuffles with the police, three of whom were released a short time later, and the three remaining detainees were also later released. Had it not been for the orders of the army not to clash with the demonstration, very bad and unnecessary things could have happened to the protesters.

These kinds of tactics for the sake of publicity in the bourgeois press sooner or later will bring some real harm. As one old timer remarked to me in my ears, “there is not much of a difference between these liberals and the anarchists”. The similarity was also clear in their approach to the rank and file of the army. While the comrades of the Marxist circles spoke with the soldiers explaining to them that the demonstration was against the high command and the government who use the rank and file soldiers to oppress the Palestinians against their own interests, some of the left liberals shouted at the soldiers that they are ignorant war criminals with whom it is impossible to argue as long they have not read some serious books!

This arrogance of the liberals - a trait they share with the anarchists - who blame the workers for the crimes of the ruling class, instead of winning them over, took on even a symbolic character, as the only flags the leaders of Tayush allowed on the demonstration were black flags as a symbol of mourning the dead.